Evan Gora is a forest ecologist investigating the causes and consequences of plant death. Plants play crucial roles in global biodiversity and nutrient cycling. However, plant mortality rates are shifting with climate change and putting these key functions at risk. Evan’s work aims to understand when, where, and why plants die in nature, and then measure the implications of their deaths for forest ecosystems. His research helps us understand the current stressors affecting forests and begin to predict how forests will change in the future.
Evan takes a bottom-up approach to understand how plant death influences ecosystem processes. He studies local patterns and processes of plant death, and then uses “big data” such as plot networks and satellite sensors to scale these findings to the landscape and beyond. Much of this research focuses on the effects of a rarely studied phenomenon – lightning – and the drivers of mortality for the largest and oldest trees in forest ecosystems. This research is key to understanding how agents of mortality are reshaping the composition of our forests and their capacity to store carbon.
After plants die, they decompose with major implications for the global carbon budget. Evan explores how environmental conditions, biogeochemistry, and decomposer community assembly influence decomposition. This work has also expanded into research describing the vertical dimension of microbial diversity and function that extends from the forest floor to the canopy. Studies of decomposition are essential to understanding forest nutrient cycling and its response to global change.